Evangelicals Think About Sports The Way Augustine Thought About Sex

Evangelicals in general, and Baptists in particular, need to develop a theology of recreation and leisure. We really don’t know how to enjoy sports in a way that doesn’t afflict our conscience. For the most part, American Christians approach sporting events–such as the Super Bowl this Sunday–the way many Augustinians approach the physical aspects of the marital relationship. Augustine considered sex (i.e. sex within marriage) to be a necessary evil (Confessions 9.3). The physical relationship within marriage is necessary for the propagation of the human race, and the typical Christian does not have sufficient restraint anyway. Similarly, we suspect that our preoccupation with sports is probably wrong. But, hey, we live in a fallen world and watching the game is such a guilty pleasure.

Then we read the statements of Jesus (“We must do the works of Him who sent Me while it is day. Night is coming when no one can work.” John 9:4) or we read about the exploits of Paul (“In labor and hardship, many sleepless nights, hunger and thirst, often without food, cold, and lacking clothing.” See 2 Cor 11:22-33). We start feeling guilty.

I’m reminded of an incident in the life of the remarkable missionary, C. T. Studd. Studd believed it a sin to take a day off, so he worked 18 hours a day, 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year. His daughter and son-in-law worked for the same mission, and one day they dared to take a day of rest. Studd fired them. (Doreen Moore recounts this incident in Good Christians, Good Husbands?–a book I highly recommend). In a similar vein, evangelist D. L. Moody used to rail against the sin of reading a newspaper on Sunday. I could go on, but suffice it to say that Christians have always struggled  to balance our commitment and fervor for serving the kingdom with our body’s and spirit’s need for rest and relaxation.

Actually, I believe there is a place for leisure in the Christian life. Jesus–our example for life and how it is to be lived–made time for sleep, rest, weddings and good food (Mark 6:31). Somewhere between the extremes of aceticism (“everything is wrong”) and antinomianism (“anything goes”) is the healthly Christian life that enjoys all things in moderation before God. We need to think Christianly about sports and develop a good theology of rest and recreation. We still have some work to do (no pun intended) in developing our thinking about these matters. There is a right way to enjoy sports, games, and fun to the glory of God–even the Super Bowl.

This post is cross-posted at www.theologyforthechurch.com